Alexander McCall Smith’s mystery series, particularly the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series, have gained a wide and loyal following of readers worldwide, but critics are divided on the worth of his contributions to the genre as a whole. Although some critics term his emphasis on human decency a retreat from the harsh realities of the modern world, others laud his focus on values as either an antidote to or an expansion of those realities. In an age when many espionage and true-crime stories are ripped from the headlines, McCall Smith seemingly draws his inspiration from otherwise underreported, and perhaps undervalued, stories of human interest.
Whether McCall Smith’s mystery series are set in the remote but developing country of Botswana, or the established metropolis of Edinburgh, Scotland, his principal characters are women and men of conscience who strive to live decent lives. To take action in response to an outright crime or to investigate a mysterious circumstance is a moral choice on their parts. Characters such as Precious Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie choose involvement in the lives of others and in their communities in cases where others, in fiction and in life, would most likely remain apathetic.